Ma'lik Richmond, a high school sophomore football player in Steubenville, Ohio, is accused of raping a 16-year-old girl from across the Ohio River in West Virginia while at a party with several other teenage boys.
The case has created a firestorm in the small football-obsessed city stoked by allegations that officials protected Steubenville football players at the expense of the alleged victim. Residents there follow the storied Big Red high school football team religiously. It is a program that Ma'lik, 16, had dreamed of joining and, on the night of Aug. 11, 2012, he relished the role he played in their first scrimmage win.
"I had two touchdowns and the fans were screaming and cheering," Ma'lik told ABC News' Elizabeth Vargas in an exclusive interview with "20/20" given a little more than a week before his trial, which begins today. "I was just thinking, 'I just can't wait for the season to start.'"
It's no surprise that he was in a celebratory mood. But even Ma'lik admits that some of what happened at the parties he and several of his teammates attended that night crossed the line.
"I knew one person had a fake I.D.," Ma'lik said. "People had Bud Light Platinum, and different variety of beers and vodka. Everybody was drinking."
But, Ma'lik insists, that was the only crime committed that night.
Watch the full story on "20/20" Friday, March 22, at 10 ET
Prosecutors will argue that the young girl who was allegedly raped was intoxicated and beyond the point of consent when Ma'lik and teammate Trent Mays, 17, allegedly used their hands to penetrate her vaginally. In Ohio, as in many states, that constitutes the crime of rape.
"The state doesn't have to prove that she was flat-lined, but it's clear during both of these digital penetrations she was not in the state to consent," Prosecutor Marianne Hemmeter said at a probable cause hearing in October.
The alleged victim's civil attorney also insists it would have been impossible for his client to consent that night. "My client was unconscious that night. She doesn't have any memory of what happened," Bob Fitzsimmons told "20/20."
ABC News does not name the victims of alleged sexual assaults.
Ma'lik says he was stunned to get a text from a friend three days after the party saying that one of the girls present that night had accused him of rape.
"I just texted him, like, 'What are you talking about? Stop playing with me,'" he said.
Up until that fateful night, Ma'lik's life had read like a script from the movie "The Blind Side." Growing up, it was not uncommon for him to dodge gunfire at home.
"One day we were all just sitting in my living room and it was dark and all you hear is a big gunshot," he said. "The bullet flew past my cousin's head and we all just hit the floor. I just remember basically every house I lived in was the same exact thing."
Sports soon became an escape from his home life. By the age of 8, he had already become a gifted athlete who excelled at baseball, basketball and track. It was football, though, that afforded him the first real opportunity for a better life.
Greg Agresta is a successful banker living on the other side of Steubenville with his wife, Jennifer, a teacher, and their two sons. He was encouraged nine years ago to sign his 8-year-old son, Robby, up for a pee-wee football league whose rosters included disadvantaged kids. Greg was soon recruited to coach the team, and he immediately took notice of one player.